Much Ado About Nothing is the latest Shakespearean film adaptation hitting the cinemas, this time by Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Angel fame).
With a cast that includes some of the regular actors from Buffy, Angel and Firefly the film was shot over 12 days (the time Whedon had on a ‘break’ from shooting The Avengers) at the director’s own LA mansion. The open-plan style of the house is perfect for the essential eavesdropping moments, and no-doubt helped with the budget to boot!
Shot with hand-held cameras and in black and white (I’m not sure why as colour would have worked fine), this film has all the wit, twists and drama of the ol’ bard himself! The lead roles by Alexis Denisof (Benedick) and Amy Acker (Beatrice) are played with the perfect mix of egotism and humour; Whedon has added flashback to a one-night liaison between the two that only adds fuel to their inter-personal banter/fire. The love-hate interplay is fast and furious throughout the film and these two actors help keep the pace, lively, engaging as well as endearing at the end.
Whedon has been able to blend modern technologies and the 21st century way of life into the plot-line without it feeling out of place with the script itself remaining fairly true to form. For example, we see actors checking smartphones, a fleet of modern cars, FBI style survellience technologies, Benedick and Claudio bunking down in a girl’s bedroom replete with Barbie, stuffed toys and plenty of pink, cocktails in the pool, and modern music to help pick up the pace. The soundtrack works well and what is notable is that three tracks have been written by Whedon and/or his brother Jed and they were also performed by Jed and his spouse Maurissa Tancharoen.There are wonderful slapstick moments by Denisof and Acker, moreso in the first half of the film before they start to ‘transform’. However the real scene stealers go to Nathan Fillion (from Castle) as the clueless Dogberry, and Tom Lenk (of BUFFY’s Legion of Doom) as his assistant Verges, with them playing the roles of “dumb-ass” TV style-cops. Lenk even sports a classic 70s moustache (reminiscent of Starsky and Hutch etc). Fillion was particularly adept at getting a laugh from the audience each time he appeared on screen (I had to control myself in a couple of spots!) not only for his quirky delivery of the Shakespearean dialogue but also for his comedic timing. The rest of the cast is similarly engaging, with Clark Gregg making an inspired Leonato, Fran Kranz playing the love struck Claudio and Jillian Morgese as the-apple-of his eye, Hero. Reed Diamond should also be mentioned for his strong performance as Don Pedro.
Whedon’s interpretation was thoroughly enjoyable. Not only is it faithful to the original play but the modern twists didn’t feel the least bit out of character or contrived. For someone who usually relies so heavily on his own dialogue (and that’s what we love!) Whedon has masterfully made a modern Shakespearean crowd pleaser with this lighthearted film. If nothing else this film is sure to do well in schools where teaching Shakespeare can be a challenge to all!